Access to middle-income jobs within the healthcare industry could turn the tide for residents among the nearly 25 percent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg residents living in poverty. Last year, a Harvard study ranked the region last for economic mobility.
Through the White House’s new Health Careers Pathways initiative, announced in April, seven communities across the country will collaborate on a model that ensures underserved residents are poised to benefit from some of the anticipated 3.5 million jobs the healthcare industry is expected to create over the next decade nationwide. Among the seven, Charlotte will focus on entry-level non-clinical roles. City leaders, the local school district and healthcare executives hope to expand career opportunities and job training.
Carolinas HealthCare System is ramping up recruiting across the Charlotte region by expanding workforce development partnerships with Dress for Success, The Urban League of Central Carolinas and Goodwill Industries. The healthcare giant currently employs over 60,000 clinical and nonclinical professionals in over 900 health centers across Mecklenburg County.
Debra Plousha Moore, chief human resources officer of CHS, says that the effort is an extension of the community work the nonprofit health agency has been doing for over 30 years. She says that with the added support of the White House network, CHS has committed to expanding specialized skill training for residents and high school graduates to prepare them for better-paying jobs within the health services field.
“As a human resources leader, I’m looking at the current state and future state of the workplace and the communities where we work. We’re looking at pipelines to a very skilled workforce where professionals can have several careers in our system. Entry into the organization is sometimes challenging and difficult because we are so specialized,” says Plousha Moore.
CHS has partnerships with local community colleges and universities to help ensure training programs are meeting the needs of the evolving healthcare system. These institutions, in addition to CHS’s independent training programs, according to Plousha Moore, are pipelines to job across the CHS network of hospitals, nursing homes, urgent care centers, laboratories and pharmacies.
In early 2015, CHS partnered with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to focus on young people who are eager to gain entry into the health field while earning experience and money through part-time employment. The CHS Career Pathways Institute was established to provide 15 graduating high school seniors with paid part-time work in patient care — flexible positions that students were able to keep while in college. A pilot year-round internship program also gave high school seniors full-time summer jobs that transitioned to part-time positions during their college academic year. Plousha Moore hopes to expand both programs.
Interns work in telehealth services within the human resources department, helping callers navigate CHS’ vast network of patient services and doctors. Alongside their primary work duties, students receive mentorship from doctors and other healthcare professionals. Students also complete leadership assessments to determine their skills and strengths and potential healthcare career paths. Cohorts from the program have gone on to attend college at UNC Charlotte, UNC Chapel Hill and Central Piedmont Community College.
Dawn Hill, director of youth programs for the city of Charlotte, points to the decades-long partnership her office has had with CHS. Every year, over 4,000 youth between the ages of 16 and 18 are exposed to career opportunities at CHS through several career fairs and healthcare demonstrations.
This year, the mayor’s office plans to add additional health and science-related internships to the table by expanding its work with CHS, Novant Health and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to provide high school students opportunities to intern at pharmacies and other healthcare centers. The program will employ up to 350 interns this summer with the goal of expanding to 1,000 interns hired over time.
For Hill, reinforcing positive messages for youth as they begin to pick careers and look for work opportunities within the city remains top of mind.
“We’re pushing tech and health sciences. We want to show youth how health science and the technology they are interested in intersect and can open career pathways for them to explore,” says Hill.
UPDATE: This post has been corrected regarding the number of health and science-related internships the mayor’s office expects to offer this summer.
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Sherrell Dorsey is a social impact storyteller, social entrepreneur and advocate for environmental, social and economic equity in underserved communities. Sherrell speaks and writes frequently on the topics of sustainability, technology and digital inclusion. Her work has been featured in Black Enterprise Magazine, Triple Pundit and Inhabitat.